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CMS board approves a $49 million plan to double employee retention bonuses

A math class at East Mecklenburg High School.
Ann Doss Helms
A math class at East Mecklenburg High School.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board unanimously approved a plan Tuesday to spend $49 million in federal COVID-19 aid to double employee retention bonuses.

In December, the board approved $2,500 retention bonuses for full-time employees, with half paid out later that month and the other half coming in September. Part-time staff got half that amount.

That plan immediately drew criticism from some educators, with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators calling for CMS to double the bonuses. That would match what Wake County approved late last year.

"Stop telling staff we are appreciated and start paying us enough to retain our folks. This is not about appreciation, it's about retention in a competitive job market,” CMAE Vice President Rae LeGrone said in a December statement.

The plan approved Tuesday boosts the total to $5,000 for full-time employees and $2,500 for part-timers. Employees who were working as of Dec. 31 will get a payment this month. People hired by July 31, 2022, will be eligible for the September bonus, and those on board by the end of September will qualify for a new November payment.

It also makes guest teachers eligible for the bonuses. That new position stations permanent floating substitutes in schools to help cope with vacancies and absences.

The total cost for the expanded bonus program is close to $100 million, all coming from federal COVID-19 aid.

Resignations and difficulty hiring new teachers and other staff have been a persistent problem, not just for CMS but for districts across the state. Three board members said the bonuses need to be accompanied by higher pay, which requires the support of state legislators and/or Mecklenburg County commissioners.

"I’m very much aware that we’re not going to bonus our way out of the teaching crisis or the general labor shortage that we’re experiencing in our district, in our state and our country," said board member Jennifer De La Jara.

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Updated: February 8, 2022 at 10:18 PM EST
Updated Feb. 8 to include the vote.
Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.